Honolulu’s Bill 2 Takes a Fresh Look At Parking For a More Affordable, Resilient City

Honolulu’s Bill 2 Takes a Fresh Look At Parking For a More Affordable, Resilient City

Photo: Randy Caldwell/Flickr
The NRDC Action Fund is driving climate action in cities across the country through The American Cities Climate Challenge. This post is written by Elizabeth Stampe.

In one of the nation’s most unaffordable housing markets, parking reform could bring down sky-high costs, encourage climate-friendly transportation, and create more walkable streets. You can help.

“They paved paradise, put up a parking lot.”

Joni Mitchell wrote that song’s famous line about Honolulu. For decades, Honolulu’s land use laws, like those in many cities, have required that new buildings must include multiple parking spaces for every home and business they contain. So every builder of apartments or shops must also construct an expensive adjoining garage or pour a big expanse of black asphalt.

These requirements have resulted in overbuilt parking, more than residents need, taking up valuable space and increasing housing costs. By prioritizing driving over sustainable transportation, they also add to pollution and climate change.

This summer, Honolulu has an opportunity to fix this with Bill 2 (2020).

Bill 2 will allow more flexibility on how much parking is built and require better parking design for more pleasant streets. It will also “unbundle” parking costs from housing costs so that residents only have to pay for the parking they use, not what they don’t. Bill 2 will make Honolulu more affordable, climate-friendly, and walkable.

You can contact your Councilmember to support Bill 2; read on to learn more.

A waste of space
In Honolulu, as in other cities, it turns out that much of the space set aside by law for parking has actually gone unused.

A 2019 study found that urban Honolulu parking garages were only 70 percent occupied at peak demand times. In one example, in a fully occupied 380-unit condo, almost 200 out of 700 parking spaces were empty; in a high-rise, that’s two or three entire floors–a staggering mis-allocation of space.

The more land dedicated to unnecessary parking, the less land available for the homes people need. On average, one parking space requires about 320 square feet of space (for the space and the driving area to reach it); that’s the size of two average bedrooms, or more than many entire studio apartments.

Driving up costs
Honolulu has by some measures the most unaffordable housing in the nation. And parking requirements contribute to that.

Parking is extremely expensive to build. In Honolulu, it costs $48,000 per stall to construct an underground garage. Those costs are passed on to residents, driving up the cost of housing.

Nationally, parking requirements make renters pay an extra $225 per spot every month—and in pricey markets like Honolulu, that’s likely closer to $5,000 per year. Residents have to pay whether or not they even own a car.

Costs for businesses are higher too; some don’t pencil out because they cannot afford the parking required. If they can go ahead, they’ll pass those parking costs on to customers, whether or not those customers drive. (Parking can almost double the price of building a shopping mall.) This adds to Honolulu’s high cost of living.

Change needed for the climate
Honolulu, like cities across the world, is facing a grave threat from climate change. Temperatures and sea levels are rising, coral reefs are bleaching, and storms are more frequent and dangerous.

Transportation is the country’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, meaning that the more we drive, the worse the problem gets. Research has shown that oversupplying parking causes people to drive more. Building too much parking encourages driving, makes traffic and air pollution worse, and further destabilizes the climate. These requirements also put more space between destinations because of all the parking lots and garages, making it harder for people to choose climate-friendly transportation like walking, biking and taking the bus.

Fortunately, Honolulu is now proposing to make positive change, following the lead of many cities, including San Diego, Sacramento, Minneapolis, Portland, Miami, and Ottawa.

What Bill 2 includes
Honolulu’s City Council is now considering Bill 2 (2020) to update its decades-old parking regulations in three key ways:

  • Removes parking minimum requirements to reduce construction costs. This brings down the cost of housing–and the cost of living, as construction costs add to the cost of all goods. It provides flexibility for developers to enable “right-sizing” parking to meet demand, and especially reduce parking—and housing costs—in urban areas well served by public transit.
  • Unbundles” the costs of parking and housing, so people only have to pay for the parking spaces they use, not those they don’t. This provides flexibility for residents, and this is important. Today, in Honolulu, 43% of local households have zero or one car, and are likely over-paying for parking they don’t use. Low-income people especially have low car ownership and need relief from this burden. Honolulu’s impressive and far-sighted version of unbundling also allows people to lease instead of buy parking, to respond to changing needs over time.
  • Requires that parking is set back with rows of trees or “liner” buildings facing the sidewalk to make streets more walkable. This will make the area around new buildings much more appealing and safe for pedestrians, and support local businesses by encouraging foot traffic.

Bill 2 offers many benefits:

  • Reduces housing costs both by removing parking minimums, so that builders are not forced to build more than people will use, and by unbundling, so that residents are not forced to pay for more than they need. You can learn more about how minimums increase costs in this short video.
  • Prioritizes people over cars by freeing up space to be used for homes instead of parking, and creating more walkable, safe and accessible streets.
  • Addresses climate change by supporting promoting clean, affordable transportation options such as walking, biking, carshare and public transit instead of assuming that everyone must drive.
  • Modernizes the use of street space by encouraging innovative solutions to relieve street parking pressure like shared and joint-use parking, and planning around more use of Grubhub, Doordash and or other similar ride-sharing and delivery services.

Speak up to support Bill 2 for more affordable homes, more climate-friendly development, and safer streets. The bill is likely to go to the Honolulu City Council’s Zoning, Planning and Housing Committee on Thursday 8/27. 

You can support Bill 2 in two ways: